Forum: Night duty an invaluable part of house officers' medical training

I read Ms Joyce Chia's letter urging hospitals to look into the welfare of junior doctors with interest (Cash reward good, but look into welfare of junior doctors too, Jan 5).

All medical school graduates do a year of apprenticeship after graduation before they become fully qualified as a doctor in Singapore.

I did mine in 1994. I completed three different postings - general surgery, obstetrics/gynaecology and internal medicine - at two different hospitals.

I remember there being eight house officers in the surgical department. Each night, two of us would be on night duty. So each house officer did one night call every four days.

Night duty is an important part of training, as patients with various problems could be admitted at any time. And patients staying in the hospital might turn ill unexpectedly as well.

Covering the ward after office hours, from 5pm till 8am the following morning, exposes house officers to a wide range of emergencies.

The house officer's activities, such as interviewing new admissions and attending to emergencies, are supervised by the medical officer and registrar on duty.

Over the four months I spent as a house officer in the surgical department, I did one appendectomy under supervision, and assisted in numerous emergency operations during night duty. These experiences formed an invaluable part of my medical training.

During night duty, house officers are able to see and manage many emergencies under supervision, which is greatly advantageous to their medical career.

Regarding house officer welfare, even back in 1994, the two hospitals where I was a house officer provided us with decent meals, a clean bathroom and a decent on-call bedroom. As a house officer, I was treated with respect. I do not think current house officers are treated any worse than I was.

Ms Chia's letter is a great reminder to all who aim to be doctors. Medical training is long and tough.

I still remember what one senior surgeon told me during my graduation party: "Graduating from medical school is just the beginning of your learning journey. You still have a long way to go."

Desmond Wai (Dr)

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